The Wrath of Mr. Pruitt (a memoir)
by Helen (Len) Leatherwood
I remember a family that lived behind us on East 8th Street. Their name was Pruitt. There were two daughters, Linda and Nora, who were a little bit older than I was. Their father was mean. He frowned a lot and walked around all the time like he was mad, stiff-legged and jerky. I was pretty sure he beat his children. Their heads went down whenever he was around, and their shoulders started to droop. They reminded me of dogs that were used to being kicked.
My only personal experience with Mr. Pruitt came when I was around six.
I was in the dining room of our house, playing. My mother was upstairs, so I had the downstairs all to myself. I looked up and admired the pretty shades that covered each of the lights on the chandelier. They were frosted glass and a tulip shape. I decided to climb up on the dining room table so I could touch one, to see how heavy it was. I lifted it, up and over the light bulb, and was just about to examine it closely when it slipped. As if in slow motion, I watched that shade fell down, down, down until it hit the floor. Crash! It shattered into a million little pieces.
I froze and listened for Mama’s footsteps. I knew I was in big trouble. I waited. She didn’t come. She must not have heard the noise.
It was in that moment that I decided that finding a place to hide was much better than any of my other choices.
I climbed down from the table and tip-toed through the house to the kitchen. I stopped and listened again. There were still no footsteps coming downstairs. I pushed open the back door and slipped outside. My dog, Bob, came trotting up to greet me. I patted his head, then headed for the back yard. I looked behind me a time or two as I sneaked along the edge of the house before darting across the lawn and wiggling through thick bushes to a hidden spot all the way in the back. Bob scooted in beside me. I was glad he’d come along to keep me company.
I leaned against the white picket fence, surrounded with green leaves. Bob snuggled up against me. It was quiet except for the car sounds coming from the street out front. Any fear I had had gave way to enjoying my cozy little niche. The ground was covered in dried leaves and was soft. I played with a doodle bug that had been crawling on a leaf. It keep rolling up in a ball until I held my hand flat and still. Then it would open up and tickle my arm crawling up and down.
Time passed. Bob went to sleep and started to snore. I must have fallen asleep, too, because the next thing I knew I woke up to the sound of people calling my name. "Len," I heard our neighbor, Palmer, calling. That seemed strange to me. Why was Palmer calling for me? Then I heard other voices coming from the front of the house and down the street. All calling my name. "Len, come home..."
I peeked out into the backyard. It was much later in the afternoon. The sky was getting pink in the west. I realized I must have slept quite a while.
Suddenly, I heard this man's voice not far from where I was hiding. "Len Leatherwood, where are you?'' I recognized that voice. It was Mr. Pruitt.
Bob, stood up. He heard the calling and wanted to go. I tried to hold him by his collar, but he must have thought it was dinnertime. He pulled away and ran out of the bushes. I wadded myself up into a little ball like that doodle bug. I sure didn't want Mr. Pruitt to be the one that found me.
About that time, I heard a crunch of dead leaves and saw the branches in front of me get yanked open. Staring at me with dark squinty eyes was Mr. Pruitt.
"Girl, come out of these bushes right now," he said, his voice low.
My heart started to thump in my chest. I really wanted to see Mama, I didn't care if she was mad about the light fixture. Or Daddy. Where was my daddy?
I felt a strong hand grab my bare arm and start to pull. Next thing I knew, sharp branches were scratching my face, arms and legs as I was dragged through the bushes, then pulled roughly to my feet.
Two shaggy eyebrows bobbed up and down as Mr. Pruitt yelled at me. I don't remember what he said, just that his eyes were dark and beady. I also heard that same mean tone in his voice I’d heard him use with his own kids. That tone made me start looking around for someone to come and help me.
It was then that I saw that he was taking off his belt. His hands jerked with anger as he pulled the end out of the buckle and yanked the belt out of the loops his pants. I heard the swoosh and saw him fold the ends in half. About that time, he grabbed my arms and pulled me toward him. “I’ll teach you, you little…” he said as he reared his arm back.
“Stop that, Pruitt,” I suddenly heard, and whipped my head around to see Daddy walking into the back yard.
“No man touches a child of mine…”
Pruitt instantly dropped my arm. “Well, this girl ought to be learned…”
My father stopped and stood his ground. “I’ll take care of that. Not you.”
I ran and got behind my daddy, wrapping my arms around his leg.
Mr. Pruitt looked down at me and scowled. “Well, you better be glad you ain’t a kid of mine,” he said, as he threaded his belt back through the loops on his khaki pants.
“That’s enough,” Daddy said. He put his hand out.
“Thank you for helping.”
Mr. Pruitt gave me another long stare. “Any time,” he said, before reaching out and shaking my father’s hand.
I watched him walk away.
“Next time you do something, you don’t have to hide,” Daddy said as he took my hand and led me to our house.
“You scared us.”
I could hear the gentleness in his voice.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and was. I understood what it meant to be scared. I also understood how lucky I was that Mr. Pruitt wasn't MY daddy.
Helen (Len) Leatherwood is a Texan who's been living in Beverly Hills for the past ten years. She is the author of several published memoir pieces, including "Louise Love's Kitchen" published in the Cup of Comfort Cookbook found in book stores everywhere, as well as two short pieces already published on LongStoryShort. She is currently writing more and more flashmemoir and also revising a novel called, Taking Care of Our Own. Contact Len.